September 29, 2016

The undead invade the world of Jane Austen

Pride & Prejudice is the famous story by Jane Austen about Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with many social issues in the 18th century.

But before that, she must fend off the undead.

In 2009, author Seth Grahame-Smith published Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a parody novel that combines the elements of Austen’s classic with zombie fiction. In the novel, a plague befalls Britain, and the land is overrun by zombies.

Elizabeth, trained in the areas of martial arts, takes on the plague to save the country.

Lionsgate and Screen Gems have produced a film adaptation of the novel directed by Burr Steers, who previously directed the Zac Efron-led 17 Again.  The film’s cast members, Lily James, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth and Matt Smith, participated in a conference call with college students across the nation.

Elizabeth is portrayed by actress Lily James, who most recently appeared as the title character in 2015’s remake of Cinderella.  James said she questioned whether an idea this far out could work.  However, she said that the ideals of the book have not changed despite the addition of the undead.

“It’s a romance, it’s a drama, but then throw into that every time you’re maybe getting a bit bored, a big zombie attack,” James said.

Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. Lionsgate/Contributed Photo

Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems’ PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. Lionsgate/Contributed Photo

Heathcote, who plays the role of Elizabeth’s sister Jane Bennet, said that both the film and the book keep the importance of female empowerment.

“It just has a cynical expression because we get to beat the crap out of zombies,” Heathcote said.

Heathcote said the film differs from many other things she has done because she is not being cast as the “girl next door wallflower.”  Heathcote’s previous credits include Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows and the Australian television series Neighbours.

“I wanted to take it on because it’s pretty rare that I get to kick [butt],” Heathcote said.

James said that the strength of Cinderella came from within due to her peaceful nature.  That was not the case in this film.

“It was fun to sort of scream and scratch and bite and kick and beat,” James said.

Heathcote said the women did quite a bit of training.  She spent three months by herself in Los Angeles learning kung fu before she trained with the others.  James did a lot of boxing training.

“I was very unfit and very lazy prior to shooting so I had to do a lot to get into shape,” James said.

Pride & Prejudice vs Zombies

Illustration by Sarah Blankenship

One of the main storylines in Pride and Prejudice is the budding romance between Jane Bennet and the wealthy Charles Bingley, played by Douglas Booth.  Booth has appeared in The Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending and the 2013 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.  Heathcote said that she still retains the character’s “shyness” so that the relationship between them can build.

“Everyone else can see that Jane and Bingley should be together, but I think Jane has to be shy because Bingley has to be convinced that maybe she doesn’t love him for the whole story to work,” Heathcote said.

Matt Smith, who played the role of Elizabeth’s love interest, Mr. Darcy, said the different interpretation of the story allows for a reinvention of the characters/

“The laws of the universe are slightly heightened and the characters that exist in it can therefore be slightly heightened, I think,” Smith said.

James said the film being a period piece in the midst of the apocalypse allows for more freedom in the characters and in the story.

“We had knives hidden in our knickers, like we could do anything we wanted,” James said.

Booth said coming into the production was easy because he was already familiar with most of the main cast before production began.  He worked with Smith in Christopher and his Kind, he knew James from drama school.  They all met Heathcote through the production.

“This is particularly a really, really cool, young fun cast,” Booth said.

The cast hopes that even for those who are fans of Austen, everyone will have fun watching the new take on her novel.

“It’s like Austen but a bit less nutritional value, a bit more candy on top,” Heathcote said.

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